|When Dylan Willick (left) returns from a broken ankle, the Kamloops|
Blazers will have sewn a 'C' onto his sweater.
(Murray Mitchell / Kamloops Daily News)
Daily News Sports EditorAll Dylan Willick wants is to play hockey again.
The 20-year-old Willick is in his fourth season with the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, but hasn’t played since breaking his right ankle on Nov. 2.
But now, after being named the team’s captain on Wednesday, he wants to get back in the lineup even more than before, if that’s possible.
“I didn’t know if I could want to get back any quicker,” Willick said last night, “but today I found a new spark.”
The Blazers, who will entertain the Prince George Cougars on Friday, didn’t name a captain prior to the start of the season as they weren’t certain whether they would get defenceman Austin Madaisky, 20, back from the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. He recently underwent wrist surgery and may not play again until at least March, so the Blazers made the move to put the ‘C’ on Willick’s chest.
“It’s an honour. It’s not a small step,” Willick said. “There have been a lot of captains in this organization. It’s something pretty special to me. It’s something I don’t take lightly.”
Veterans Tyler Hansen, Brendan Ranford and Colin Smith, each of whom is in his fourth or fifth season here, are the alternate captains.
Willick, a native of Prince George, won’t play again until after Christmas. He said if things go perfectly he would return Dec. 29 against the visiting Vancouver Giants.
“I’m able to do a little bit of weight bearing with a walking cast on,” he said. “But it’ll still be after Christmas.”
The Blazers return from the Christmas break with a game against the host Kelowna Rockets on Dec. 27.
“I will need a couple of practices, some full contact, to make sure I’m game ready before I jump into something like,” said Willick, who has 14 points in 19 games and also is the team’s best penalty-killing forward.
He added that the Dec. 29 game is “the best-case scenario.”
If that doesn’t happen, “I’m pretty much for sure after the new year unless I fall down the stairs at some point,” he said with a laugh.
For the past month he has watched from on high as the Blazers, who won 14 straight games just before he was injured, have gone 5-6-2 without him in the lineup.
“I’m still seeing the effort,” he said. “There are moments when we’ve been showing our frustration. But in our last game (a 2-1 victory over the visiting Swift Current Broncos on Tuesday) the frustration wasn’t there. The guys kept on doing what they were supposed to do, what we are told to do, and it paid off in the long run.
“We haven’t been playing bad; it’s just that the pucks aren’t doing what they were at the start of the season.”
For now, then, Willick will continue to watch from on high and perhaps pass on the odd observation. He has had some support, too, from people like former teammates Chase Schaber, who was the captain the last two seasons and now is at the U of Lethbridge, and Jordan DePape. Both have known the bite of injury, Schaber having had last season halted prematurely by a skate cut to a leg and DePape having left the club due to shoulder problems on Nov. 17.
“As long as I can still be part of the team in whatever way I can . . . that’s all that matters,” Willick said.
Meanwhile, in Prince George, the Cougars also announced a new captain with defenceman Dan Gibb taking over from forward Brock Hirsche.
Hirsche, a 20-year-old from Lethbridge, has had to retire due to shoulder problems. He had surgery Tuesday to repair a torn labrum, his second major procedure in the last two years.
The Cougars have told Hirsche he is welcome to stay with the club as an assistant coach, a role he has filled while on the shelf the last two seasons. He said he will decide what he’s going to do during the Christmas break.
Gibb had been an alternate captain, but that letter now belongs to former Blazers winger Ryan Hanes, who is from Kamloops.
Willick admitted being quite pleased for Hanes, who joined the Cougars in mid-November. He got caught up in the 20-year-old numbers game with the Blazers and had been with the BCHL’s Cowichan Valley Capitals.
“The guy in the dressing room, as far as what I know, he deserves something like that,” Hanes said. “He doesn’t take that lightly either.”
Gibb and Willick, the WHL’s newest captains, were teammates on the major midget Cariboo Cougars, who play out of Prince George, in 2008-09.
JUST NOTES: The Broncos are likely to be without forwards Josh Derko and Levi Bews until after Christmas. Both were taken to Royal Inland Hospital with leg injuries during Tuesday’s game. Derko apparently has some damage to his left ankle, although it’s not broken, and is on crutches. Bews has a sprained right knee. . . . The Broncos took a 3-2 lead into the third period last night in Kelowna, but ran out of gas and ended up losing 6-5.
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